‘Pixie’ review: convoluted Irish crime caper that’s saved by its star

Olivia Cooke shines in the title role, but moments of dated lad humour fall flat

Boasting a dark and violent brand of comedy, Pixie is set in the criminal underbelly of Sligo and stars the effervescent Olivia Cooke as the titular Pixie, a local mob boss’s stepdaughter who’s caught up in a murder and forced onto the road with Frank (Ben Hardy), Harland (Daryl McCormack), 15 kilos of MDMA and a body in the trunk.

In spite of its soggy, cobbled Irish setting, the road trip portion of the film emits echoes of 2001’s Y tu mamá también, as Pixie runs circles around her affable yet naive companions while they breeze through the countryside, only in this instance gangster priests and a villainous sibling are hot on their heels.

It’s a role that demands a lot from Cooke, who is tasked with most of the narrative heavy-lifting. With her red-leather jacket, elusive nature and tendency to bestow trivial knowledge on her captive audience, Pixie runs the risk of earning a ‘manic’ and ‘dream girl’ to bookend her name. But Cooke’s earthy charms and precise comic timing not only ground the character but enhance the performances of her less-seasoned co-stars.

As the trio rack up the mileage, the plot becomes needlessly convoluted. Screenwriter Preston Thompson embellishes his story with a motley crew of small town crooks – from Dylan Moran’s po-faced drug dealer to Alec Baldwin’s throaty, murderous priest – but their senseless violence and theatrical quirks are stuck within steadfast parameters set by gangster comedies past.

The majority of the dialogue in turn feels stale. Jokes about prison rape and “sloppy seconds” feel lazy rather than cheeky and any time that the characters’ development moves in a more progressive direction a punchline is tossed out to reel them back in. That’s not to say that the film isn’t without its tender moments; Colm Meaney summons a heart flutter as his crime kingpin fumbles his way through a Nigella Lawson cooking tutorial, while the fatherly affection he shows towards Pixie manifests into the beating heart of the story.

Fans of the irregularly spaced and hyper-stylised action sequences in Guy Richie’s early work will delight in the glacial shootout between gun-toting nuns and their animal mask-wearing rivals. The melodic rhythm of Pixie’s monologues meanwhile is pleasingly hypnotic as she details the process of making tequila to a bewitched newsagent employee.

Perhaps director Barnaby Thompson is content with Pixie slipping without protest into the foul-mouthed, slickly-executed cannon of crime capers. With Cooke’s overspilling talent sitting at its core however, Pixie feels like a missed opportunity to shatter the mould while slimming and strengthening the plot to its protagonist’s advantage and in doing so laying to rest horny young men tropes once and for all.

Details

  • Director: Barnaby Thompson
  • Starring: Olivia Cooke, Ben Hardy, Daryl McCormack
  • Release date: October 23
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